My Sociology of Guns seminar’s annual field trip to the gun range is such a highlight that I sometimes wonder if I should do it at the end of class rather than the beginning. The class really is all down hill after visiting the range.
This semester my 15 students and I once again made the short drive from Wake Forest University to ProShots Range in Rural Hall, North Carolina.
Manager Richard Talbert spent 45 minutes giving students a basic introduction to firearms and safety, as well as reviewing and taking questions about the process of legally purchasing a firearm. This part of my course is mandatory.
After the classroom portion of our field trip, we headed to the range. I do not require students to shoot, but I strongly encourage them at least to observe others shooting. This year, 13 of my 15 students tried shooting, and the other 2 students observed.
As is the case every semester, many of my students have no experience shooting guns. This semester may have been my least experienced class ever. Of my 15 students, 11 had never shot ANY gun before. 3 of the 4 who had shot before did not have extensive experience, and the other 1 had not shot handguns.
We run two lanes of shooters simultaneously so there is less time standing around waiting to shoot. I am an NRA-certified Range Safety Officer, so I supervised one lane of shooters, while Richard Talbert supervised the other.
Of the 13 students who chose to shoot, 9 of them had never fired a gun before. (The 2 students who chose not to shoot also had never shot before.) With largely inexperienced shooters, both lanes had target-style .22 caliber semi-automatic pistols. “Target 22s” are excellent beginner’s guns because the combination of the comparatively heavy gun and small cartridge makes for less bang and recoil.
Richard and I also had 9mm semi-automatic pistols (a Glock 17 on my lane), and Richard had a .38 Special revolver on his lane as well. A number of students who wanted to work themselves up from the .22 took the opportunity to shoot the 9mm and revolver.
I will be posting a number of the reflections students are required to submit after the field trip. Here I will just quote a brief passages from two student papers just to indicate the types of responses the field trip typically elicits.
A female student from Florida who had never held a gun before wrote:
Holding the actual gun itself is what surprised me the most. I knew that it would be heavy, but I thought it might be heavier. . . . Right before shooting the gun, I thought I was going to back out. However, I knew I would regret not taking this unusual opportunity. After shooting the gun, the feeling was not disturbing like I thought it would be; I actually knew how to safely operate one. It actually was a rather reassuring feeling.
Another female student who had never shot before, this one from the suburban New York part of Connecticut, reflected:
I was unprepared to feel as comfortable around guns as I did, especially when shooting. The protocol to sign a waiver before use and watching a gun safety video also made me feel confident that I was surrounded by people that prided themselves on following the rules of practicing safe gun use. I am thankful I was guided by Richard while holding and shooting the gun I chose to shoot; he taught me proper stance, hand positioning and visual techniques to hit the target. This experience taught me that although gun ownership is linked in many ways to criminal activity, that link is correlative and not causal.
Stay tuned for several full-length student reflections in the coming days.